Snowshoe National Championships

Two weeks ago I returned to the US Snowshoe National Championships for the second year. This time around the event was based out of Ogden, Utah with the all-important 10k race held at Powder Mountain. As a now seasoned veteran of the National Competition with all of one championship race under my belt, I was hoping experience would carry me to the title.

Sara after the first hairpin turn.
Just kidding. Most of Saturday before the race I spent curled on the bed alternating between Netflix and a novel desperately trying not to think about the race. I still struggle with trying to stay positive before races and not talking myself out of the front pack before the gun goes off (well, in this case before the starter yells "go" because the US Snowshoe Association couldn't spring for a starter's pistol). 

This year the races started in the afternoon because Fatbike Nationals were held in the morning, which ended up working out for us because the bike tires packed a nice fast section of trail. Sara and I drove from Ogden up to Powder Mountain with plenty of time to spare and were able to get the lay of the wind-chilled course before things got crazy.

A beautiful place to race.
Immediately I began seeing guys who had finished in the top 10 in 2015 and heard tales of other entrants with blazing speed. Multi-year snowshoe champion, and current XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh returned, Lake Sonoma 50 mile champion Zach Miller ran, and John Donovan of the US Mountain Running team also showed up. These guys definitely upped the quality of the field, not that it was a weak field before, to whole new levels.

Sara's race went off at 2:45. I got to watch her swoop around two immediate hairpin turns before heading out along the shoulder of the mountain. She looked like she knew what she was doing and quickly put herself in a comfortable 14th place. My race unfortunately started just before she finished, otherwise I would have been able to see her come in 13th.

I moved to finish my warmup while she was running and made my way to the start as the first women started coming in. Times seemed fast so it gave me hope that the big hills profiled in the elevation chart weren't so scary. 

Photo courtesy of Caron Pruiett
With how windy the day was I struggled on deciding what to wear. My number was attached to my Saucony t-shirt, but the sun disappeared right before the start and I quickly began to cool off. My only option would have been to throw a long sleeve underneath and double-layer it since I didn't have time to swap my number. Instead I opted to risk freezing and stick with the short sleeve. Plus if the sun came out I needed to work on my tan. Ultimately this was a good decision since the wind died once we dropped off the top and I stayed very warm throughout the race.

I managed to start on the front line and took off in about 10th place. It started quick, but not as out of control as I was afraid of. The first 2.5 miles took us on a gradual, winding descent across the mouth of a gulch over to another ridge and meadow. During the first mile or so I felt like I put myself in a descent position without wasting too much energy, but didn't quite feel the "pop" I was hoping for. 

When the course ran more level between the 2-3 mile mark I struggled a bit trying to find my rhythm. Fortunately I could focus on just trying to stay on the 9th place runner right in front of me. At one point we caught a glimpse of the top two guys a quarter mile in front just hammering. At that moment in the race it seemed incredible that they could move so effortlessly in the snow while I felt like I was floundering. We hadn't even started climbing yet!

Photo courtesy of Caron Prueitt
And then we started climbing. The entire last half of the race was a big climb (aside from a roller or two in the last quarter). I went into the race worried about this since in the past I have not done a great job transitioning from descending to climbing. The first 200 meters of the climb this seemed to hold true as 8th and 9th pulled away from me a bit. But then something clicked and I found a great rhythm, which helped me quickly closed the gap. I caught both of them and tried to keep the pressure on so they wouldn't be able to come back.

With a mile or so to go I glanced up in time to see the next two guys walking up a particularly steep section of the course. I tried to get some more speed out of my legs, quickly redlined, and geared back down. I desperately wanted to catch them, but I had let too much of a gap open on the descent and couldn't close it. My main goal now was to not get caught. 

4.5k starting like a 2.5k. Photo courtesy of Caron Prueitt
Occasional glances over my shoulder told me that the last guy I passed was still in potential striking distance so I kept trying to increase my rhythm. I could see the lodge at the top of the mountain and so thought I knew about how much distance I had left. After we hit the first roller on the top of the ridge someone shouted that I only had one more hill, but I could clearly see two more before the lodge so I didn't react. After a few seconds it dawned on me that the finish was not actually at the lodge, but on the next hill towards me. One hill to go! Another glance over my shoulder showed that the guy behind me had somehow moved closer so I really poured it on to the end. I finished in 8th, same as last year, but was much more satisfied with this result, plus it was in the mountains so the course beauty factor probably contributed to the satisfaction. 

Despite initially not wanting to compete in the Sunday races (Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, or relay) I got talked into joining a team for the 10k relay. I had competed against these athletes in Sandpoint so we had the northwest connection going on, plus Sara had homework, so I was able to sneak out for the morning. 
 Photo Courtesy of Caron Prueitt

The race was supposed to be a 10k relay, so we each would run and short and sweet 2.5k, but as the first runners failed to appear after 10, 15, 17, 23, and 25 minutes, it became clear that the course was much longer. Turns out we would be running 4.5k apiece. I was anchor for our team so I had time to wrap my head around the distance change, but still would have preferred the shorter distance.

Our first runner, Jim Mansen, crossed the line in 3rd or 4th and our second runner, Jennifer Comfort, took off. The next team in had a stacked 2-4 runners and took a commanding lead over the next two legs. When the third legs took off we were in 4th, but were closing hard on 3rd. I began looking at the other anchor legs and noticed that I might have to race the 10k Champion from the day before, Eric Hartmark. At this point I was desperately hoping that I would get the "baton" (high-five) in a solid third place with no hope of catching second. Alas, Jerry, our third runner, ran a great leg and put me within 30 seconds of Eric. I had to try.

2nd Place! Photo Courtesy of Caron Prueitt
Eric was taking the relay fairly relaxed. To me it appeared that he didn't take off at full race speed, and I don't think he knew we were that close. I also had a pretty good guess that he would run easier, especially since he told me that was his plan. Still, he is the national champion so I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to close the gap. I used the initial descent to gain some momentum and caught up around 2k. We entered a 2k section of single track with me leading and him just chilling behind me. On the last little climb before we dropped back into the open he passed me and quickly put 30 meters on me. 

Fortunately the next 300 meters or so were gradually downhill and I have long legs that like descending. I was able to not let the gap increase and at this point hoped I could at least make it interesting at the end. The next 150 was a climb up to a road that gradually got steeper and steeper with the last 30 feet being nearly hike-able. Somehow I popped out on the top of the climb only a few steps behind him and it was off to the races. We only had a gradual 50 meter descent left so I poured it on. I managed to gain on him a little, slowly move along side, and then move in front just as we crossed the line. Second place for our team of random north-westerners. I rarely get to sprint for a finish anymore and what made this great was it was on snowshoes. I'm sure we looked hilarious and demonstrated horrendous running form. It is nice to know though that I can kick with the 10k champion, as long as we don't race 10k and he treats the first 4k like a tempo run. 

Sara making Malans Peak loog good.
After that race Sara and I went up Malans Peak on the edge of Ogden and then drove home on Monday. We had a great trip and a painfully great time racing. Next up- Sara is running the Chuckanut 50k in this weekend! And my next real big races will most likely be the Missoula Half Marathon in July. I'll probably jump in a few local races like the Bitterroot Runoff, but also start my Montana Mountain Project. 

Snow is disappearing here in Montana. Time to hit the dirt.

Happy Trails,



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Evan. Considering a race down Wyoming way next winter. What do you know about that 22/11 mile snow race in Laramie?


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